Ireland: Sligo and Galway

Luke, Jess and I caught the overnight ferry from Liverpool to Dublin and slept from about 10:30pm until 4:30am. It was a rough crossing, which made it more fun (for me anyhow), feeling the boat crashing up and down, but it also meant less sleep. Luke had a room to himself and somehow managed to sleep through all of it, lucky him!

Getting our stuff out of the boot after driving onto the ferry.

We drove off the ferry at about 5:30am, which meant very little traffic to contend with around Dublin. I felt the most awake so I drove up to Sligo. Here’s a map I have prepared to show our trip around Ireland. Please admire my use of lines and arrows and the star to denote our start and end point. Pretty good, huh?

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We stayed in Galway, Dingle and Wexford.

We’d decided on a stop in Sligo as Jess will be performing in an historical musical set in Sligo so she wanted to have a look. Also we had an enormous number of hours to kill before we could check into our accommodation in Galway.

Sligo is a medium sized town and it’s pronounced SLY-go, not Slee-go as I’d first thought and which, if I could make a suggestion to the local people, sounds nicer. Sligo sounds a bit like something you’d find if you hadn’t cleaned your drains for a while.

Anyhow, Sligo the town was actually quite nice. It didn’t feel too touristy and didn’t give us any indication of the startling numbers of American tourists we’d encounter everywhere else. I mean, there were still lots but not impenetrable scrums blocking every doorway.

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We signed up for a walking tour (actually Jess did almost all the Ireland booking and organising of everything, partially because she was the one who’d wanted to go there and partially because Luke and I were reaching booking-fatigue after months of travel). The tour started in the Information Office and the guy taking the tour had a pleasingly loud and deep voice and looked rather like the BFG.

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A statue of Yeats and our tour group in which I managed to photograph one hand of our very knowledgeable host.

The tour went for about 3 hours, which was on the long side for a walking tour, but I can honestly say that, when it finished, that I had learned a lot about Sligo and it turns out that Sligo has had quite a few interesting things happen in its history.

Sligo’s (and perhaps Ireland’s) favourite son was WB Yeats. Neither Luke, Jess nor myself are particularly into poetry and even though I’d heard of Yeats previously I knew almost nothing about him. Throughout our stay in Ireland his name came up over and over again and nearly everywhere we went there were exhibitions and memorials to his life, everyone and everywhere claiming to have had something significant to do with him. I almost wished I’d read up on him beforehand because he was such a recurring theme.

Sligo has a tiny museum that doesn’t have much in it. Currently there’s an exhibition on a woman who led the suffragettes, which was interesting, but the thing I liked most was a huge brown lump with a placard that said ‘BOG BUTTER’.

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Apparently people used to store huge (the size of a decent foot stool) chunks of butter in bogs. Bogs have a highly acidic, cool, oxygen-free environment that perfectly preserves all kinds of things. We’ve all heard of ancient people being exhumed from bogs but butter? It made me wonder whether they had forgotten where they put it or left town without it. The butter that has been found can be hundreds of years old and modern people have been experimenting and found that peat bogs can preserve food just as well as a modern freezer for periods of up to two years! Fascinating, I say.

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Because I’ve left my blog updates for over a week I now can’t remember a huge amount of what we did in Sligo (obviously the bog butter stuck in my mind) but I assure you it was a nice town. We spent our afternoon taking a drive up the coast (the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’) looking at the scenery, which was lovely, and then our last stop was the huge Glen Car waterfall. We caught a bit of rain that day but were all equiped with decent raincoats and the sun did come out here and there.

We left late afternoon to head to our Airbnb accommodation just outside Galway near the tiny village of Gort. Another terrible name for place that looked fairly inoffensive.

The next day we headed into Galway, after hiding in our Airbnb all morning watching the gale force winds of Storm Ali. The winds were so strong that they blew an unfortunate woman off the side of a cliff while she was in her caravan.

Galway is a pretty town. Many Irish towns are very pretty and colourful because of a government initiative in the 1050’s called ‘TidyTowns’. We have something similar in Australia but ours is mostly focused on reducing litter. In Ireland it is much more broad and encourages people to keep their towns appealing on every level. Part of the initiative was to encourage people to paint their towns bright colours.

While in Galway we did a number of things and if you go to Galway I recommend you do them too!

Shopping

We had  a walk around and Jess bought a tin whistle. Also we noticed how very many book shops there are in Galway – an impressive number!

Music

We spent a few hours in various pubs listening to trad music and also watching buskers deal with drunk people who then came into the pub and got told off by the bar tender.

The Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher

Early on our last day we drove to Doolin, where the ferries to the Aran Islands leave. There are three main Aran Islands and we chose to go to the furthest, which is also the largest. It took two ferries to get there. The first looked like a normal ferry and the second one looked like a a fishing trawler. The weather wasn’t great, which meant sitting inside the stinky ship rather than out in the breeze.

On Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands we took a bus tour to see the sights. Our bus was small and there were only five of us on it. Our driver was a local who spoke Irish first and learned English at school. He had obviously had issues with people not understanding his astonishingly thick accent because he repeated everything four or more times. Also there wasn’t actually all that much to see. There were lots and lots and lots of stone walls surrounding tiny fields. Any areas that hadn’t been laboriously cleared of rocks were knee-deep in them. It was truly astonishing that anyone continued to live there, it was such a harsh and barren place.

After returning to the mainland we took a quick boat ride along the coast to see the towering cliffs of Moher. I had not realised they were the ‘cliffs of insanity’ from The Princess Bride. What with the rain and spray we didn’t end up with much of a view or any decent photos, I think I’d prefer to do the walk along the top on a sunny day.

Bunratty Castle

On our last night we attended medieval banquet and performance at Bunratty Castle. We went to the late sitting at 8:45, making it quite a long day but the show was great and the food was plentiful. Lovely singing and music with humorous interludes in a genuinely ancient castle.

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Next: Dingle!

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park

We left Harrogate mid morning but our ferry to Ireland didn’t leave Liverpool until 9pm, which left us with quite a few hours to fill in between. I’d seen a few photos of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on Instagram and, as it was a nice day, we decided to take a detour.

While there are around 80 sculptures placed around the large grounds, there’s also the main gallery and a chapel that houses exhibits.

The first exhibit we looked at was by an artist called Mister Finch, a local man who made anthropomorphic sculptures of animals from found fabric and other materials. This exhibition was based on a story of his where animals who delivered wishes were allowed their own wishes granted… I think. It was quite enchanting.

The next gallery space had works from a number of artists and all the works had something to do with nature. I particularly liked this one:

At first it looked like a pile of potatoes – which it mostly was. This seemed intriguingly strange and then the nearby gallery guard/explainer told us that the artist had taken a cast of his face then buried it with the potatoes then the potatoes had grown into the shape of his eyes and ears etc. Amazing! The artist then cast those potatoes in bronze and then displayed them with regular potatoes.

You won’t recall this, I’m sure, but in my post about Rome earlier this year I included photos of an artwork that was acacia thorns on canvas. Coincidentally, there was one work by the same artist on display in Yorkshire.

We had a little wander through the grounds but it was a bit windy and so I didn’t take too many photos. Also there were a lot of Henry Moore statues, which I’m not that keen on. I did like this though :

A haha over a haha! Possibly the most elaborate pun I’ve seen all year. I don’t know how many other people would get it… or even if the artist intended it.

There was also a neat iron tree by Ai Weiwei.

This was made by making casts of a bunch of parts of other trees then roughly bolting it together.

The last thing we looked at was inside the chapel on the grounds. An elaborate and ethereal string and paper installation by an Asian artist. Lovely! As the clouds came across the windows the strings would glow or become pale.

We finished off with a very tasty lunch in the cafe then continued on to Liverpool, a city I’d expected to like but perhaps we stopped in the wrong part because it smelled rather bad. We had a few drinks at a very fancy pub then headed to the ferry, ready to start the Irish leg of our adventure.

The YSP certainly knew its way around a pie!

Next: fun times on a rocky ferry crossing then we head to Sligo and Galway.

The Harrogate Autumn Flower and Vegetable Show!

Jess, Luke and I were spending two nights in Harrogate, a city none of us knew anything about, in order to visit the Harrogate show.

A year or two ago I started following a blogger who is a very successful allotment gardener and who made videos and talked a lot about entering his vegetables into shows. He regularly grew enormous carrots, onions and a variety of other things and I became entranced with it all and decided to go see it for myself.

Unfortunately for Luke it meant spending his 36th birthday weekend watching me looking at vegetables but it was a price I was willing for him to pay. I booked the tickets a few weeks prior and a nice Airbnb apartment right in the middle of Harrogate.

The apartment turned out to be absolutely wonderful – probably one of the best we’ve ever stayed in. It was on the third storey and had panoramic views over the town centre.

Jess researched somewhere to eat on our first day and settled on Betty’s, a restaurant that is quite famous locally. We were shown to a downstairs room that was paneled with gorgeous marquetry artworks showing scenes of Yorkshire and Alsace. It turned out the food was a mix of Swiss and English, which made the whole experience rather interesting for us as we’d just visited Switzerland and Alsace before coming back to England.

All the work was done by an Alsatian artist named Spindler.

Jess has an afternoon tea and we had macaroni and cheese. Perfect!

A very nice start to our stay in Harrogate and we were all immediately taken with the town, which had a very prosperous and Victorian air.

The following day we headed to the Autumn show on the shuttle bus, arriving just after the gates opened. I had no idea how busy the day would be but at the time we arrived there was almost no one there, which made it much easier to take photos of the exhibits. By the time we left it had filled up quite a bit but I imagine there were still tickets available on the gate.

First stop was the flower hall.

The majority of flowers on display were chrysanthemums, dahlias, gladioli and roses, with a few lilies and fuchsias. The dahlias were my favourite.

Then it was on to the vegetables and fruit.

There are two main kinds of vegetable competition. One is for perfect sets of vegetables, as with the groups of onions above and the tomatoes and leeks below. Often size is a factor as well – the largest matching set is best.

The second main category is for the largest vegetables. These are often extremely ugly.

This man grew a pumpkin that weighed over 300kg and said he had a bigger one on the vine at home! I had thought large vegetables were often tasteless but he said this one was good to eat and would go to soup kitchens etc.

Heirloom apple and pear varieties were on display and they often had amusing names.

There was also a number of bonsai competitions and people selling them. This one was best in show. It must be hard being a bonsai competitor knowing that something like this was going to keep being entered every year. At least the vegetable gardeners get a fresh start each time.

Apart from produce there were marquees of crafts for sale and lots of food, from fudge to pork pies. We bought a few things but I looked longingly at much more! There were also lots of people selling garden furniture, pizza ovens, patios, sculptures and lots of food available on site.

We spent about half a day wandering around and enjoyed it a lot. An event not many tourists would go and see perhaps, but we all had a good time and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in that sort of thing.

Next: The Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

One Night In York

We caught a 5pm train from Edinburgh to York, which only takes about two hours, and arrived just as it was getting dark. I’d booked us a three person room at a place that was surprisingly cheap given how fancy the photos looked.

We soon found out why. Apart from our room being somewhat cramped and pokey, the floors out-creaked any nightingale floor I could imagine any ancient Chinese palace architect considering necessary. The whole place had a kind of shabby air but without the Fawlty Towers-ness that would’ve made it memorable. So when in York, avoid the Elmbank Hotel! Unless you’re on your own in which case creaky floors won’t be so much of an issue.

The following day we had to pick up our hire car but first we had time for a walk around York. First breakfast in a very cute and very old little tower by the river.

Apparently the building was first used as a place where dead bodies were hauled out of the river. This raised a lot of questions when I thought about it later.

Next was a bit of window shopping and actual shopping. This show shop was shut but it was amazing!

York is a university town so there was a plethora of hipster cafes and whatnot. York also has a famous cathedral and an area called The Shambles. Another one of those ‘Harry Potter inspiration’ stops. The Shambles and Diagon Alley look very similar.

We went early to get uncrowded photos. By lunchtime on Saturday there was barely room to move.

Speaking of lunch, we couldn’t eat in York without having Yorkshire puddings! Luke and I tried the newfangled Yorkshire pudding wraps.

Jess had the more traditional version.

Both were excellent.

A few last photos of York!

A yorkie in York!

A pretty mural in the hipster part of town .

luke appreciated the birthday gift Jess thoughtfully bought him.

Jess has a homing instinct for tea.

This shop looked cool but didn’t have anything good.

So old and wonky!

All in all, York is a pretty town with a few interesting bits. I’d been before and gone into Clifford’s tower etc so didn’t feel the need to go again. Next – we visit Harrogate!

Five Days Across Scotland With Haggis Tours.

After a short two nights in Edinburgh to help Jess adjust after flying from Australia, we gathered our belongs early on Monday morning and headed to the Haggis Bus Tours office on the Royal Mile, ready to begin our 5 day/4 night tour of Scotland.

Unfortunately Jess’ baggage, which had disappeared somewhere between Heathrow and Edinburgh still hadn’t turned up and the delivery company was being painful but it did eventually reach us on the third night.

I had been on a three day Haggis tour in 1999 on my first trip to Europe and I was interested to see what had changed. I remembered it being one of the highlights of my two month stay and was sure this would be another great experience – although I did wonder if I’d be the oldest person on the bus. Turned out that there was one guy older than me – Patrick – who was 45, but the age spread between 19 and 45 was pretty good.

There were 29 people on the bus and slightly more women than men. Our driver was a perky, blue-eyed young man named Callum who had a dry sense of humour and a decent knowledge of the places we visited. He encouraged us all, as we left Edinburgh, to move around the bus and chat to new people so by the first stop we all know at least six new names and were comfortable talking  to each other.

I won’t write about everything we saw but I’ll cover my highlights (in no particular order).

Highlight 1: The Scenery.

The mountains of Scotland are very reminiscent of the Lake District in many way but there is an extra wildness to them (possibly due to the far lower numbers of people and sheep) and the autumn colours we experienced were perfect.

I love everything about it and it’s made me want to do the West Highland Way one day – or maybe even the much less popular East Highland Way. The weather is always a huge factor in any outdoor pursuits in Scotland and midges are more problematic too but I would love to see more of the wilder parts of the countryside.

Highlight 2: The Selkies.

Our first stop on day 1 was at the Selkies, a huge and fairly newish sculpture near Edinburgh that looks like two angry chess pieces. Marvellous!

Highlight 3. The Company.

While our bus group did somewhat separate into the ‘all night partiers’ and ‘the rest of us’, everyone got on and was good fun.

Isabel from Switzerland, Alice and Tim from Sydney (on their pre-wedding trip to Octoberfest) and Patrick from London were probably the people I spoke to most and were all particularly lovely. There was another (and more professional) travel blogger on the bus but she had to leave early. Her blog is http://www.broganabroad.com if you like reading travel blogs!

Highlight 4. The Ceilidh.

On our first night we stayed in Oban in a hostel that had been a church. We spent the evening at a local bar having a Ceilidh (traditional Scottish dance) with a band that had a bag piper. We dance many dances and nearly everyone got up at least a few times.

To finish, a few photos with captions rom throughout the week.

Fungi! One of the benefits of autumn travel.

Jess and Isobel.

On the banks of Loch Ness.

Same age as me!

The morning after.

Ended up being a bit of a weird flavour.

Delicious stoats!

View of the Jacobite railway line.

View from the Jacobite train. The colours!

Luke and I Hike Up Skiddaw, Cumbria

Two days before we left Keswick I had an attack of the sads and felt like I hadn’t done enough while I’d been there. I know Luke isn’t obsessed with walking like I am and while he was with me I didn’t want to torture him with huge days of walking. I ended up feeling a bit resentful, which was obviously unfair but I knew I wouldn’t be back for years and there was so much left to do! It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d bought a Wainwright map and realised I’d only bagged seven peaks.

Not that it’s all about ticking things off, but the days I had climbed high I’d been rewarded with amazing views and feelings of accomplishment and I was jonesing for more.

Luke very kindly and generously agreed that our last day, if the weather was decent, would be spent attacking Skiddaw, the fourth highest peak in Cumbria and the closest major mountain to Keswick.

I was both pleased and daunted so I planned a route that was longer but not so steep, as I’d tried to attempt the climb on my last visit but was scared off by the loose gravel.

We took a taxi to the Latrigg car park then headed around between Lonscale Fell and Blencathra and walked along the valley to Skiddaw House YHA.

This way is mostly flat and mostly dry until the walk up behind Skiddaw House which then is a fairly steady, grassy gradient to the saddle between Skiddaw Little Man and Skiddaw.

As we climbed higher it seemed that the whole of the northern fells were visible and I think I could see as far as Scotland!

We reached the saddle and at this point the wind, which had been picking up gradually, became a freezing arctic gale. We each put on a jumper and what few layers we had, astonished at the ferocity of it. Still, the view was excellent. It felt almost like we were standing over Keswick. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

We walked up to the cairns, quickly admired the view and then decided to head down via the steep path to Latrigg car park. We both felt very accomplished for making it to the top, even though it had been a pretty easy walk. Little did we realise that the worst was to come!

We started down and at first the track was a wide bridleway but it narrowed and became steep loose gravel. I genuinely cannot comprehend how people run this track, even though I saw people doing it. I don’t understand how people can manage it either going up or down.

We crept down the path at at snail’s pace and it took us almost as long to travel the one kilometre down as it took us to travel the five or so kilometres up. We had to stop to rest several times because of pain in our knees – and I never get pain in my knees. I was very, very glad I’d bought replacement hiking poles and that Luke had one as well.

The soles of my feet stung from sliding in my shoes and at one point we found a grassy stretch and attempted to slide down it using my plastic-coated map as a toboggan but it didn’t really work. We did have a laugh though!

The attempted toboggan slope.

Luke says ‘why not?’

Despite the pain it was certainly an achievement. As Luke said afterwards: I’ve done something I thought I couldn’t do so now I can be more confident with other things. He was right!

My weeks of walking in the Lakes have shown me that I have no problems with camping alone in the wild (if you can consider anywhere in England ‘wild’), that I can walk a fair way carrying all my gear, that I actually enjoy scrambling over rock faces (as long as they’re not too steep) and that I enjoy my own company for days on end. These are all good things of know!

When I get home I will start planning some Tasmanian walks and finally do the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria. Maybe one day I could even aim for something really huge!

Have you ever conquered a physical challenge? Have you done something you thought was not possible? I’d love to hear about other’s achievements!

High Rigg and Buttermere – Two Walks Near Keswick.

We arrived in Keswick pretty late in the day after a taxi, two trains and a bus from Cheltenham.

We stopped in at our BnB (The Cartwheel in Blencathra Street) to unload and briefly relax before heading out on a very short walk to Castle Hill.

Despite the fact that it was only about a kilometre away I missed the right lane but we made it eventually to the little dark forest that crowned a small rise near Derwentwater.

As I expected, my lack of long walks or serious hills showed and I was a bit puffed by the time we made it to the top. The nice thing about this time of year is that the school holidays are over so we saw only a few people on the way up and had the top to ourselves.

We took a few photos but it was getting dark so we took a walk down through town to the camping and caravan club where I camped in May and June. I pointed out all the significant spots and hills I’d climbed while Luke humoured me by making noises to indicate he was listening.

When we got to the lake it was getting quite dark and it looked quite moody and gloomy – very different to earlier balmy days. Also the black and white makes it look even more eerie ;-).

We stopped at The Bank Tavern for a drink and shared a chicken kiev. While we haven’t been sharing dinner as often as we should we’re trying to remember to do it now.

We then went to The Dog And Gun, which was packed with dogs – five just in the alcove we were sitting in. We had a piece of apple pie drowning in custard, which made Luke happy, then walked back to the Cartwheel for an early night.

While on the bus that day I’d wrenched my neck and lying in a soft bed seemed to make it worse – by morning I was struggling to move it at all or sit comfortably. I took some nurofen with breakfast, which seems to help but I’m hoping it comes better soon.

The following day I decided that I wanted to walk High Rigg, a hill near Castlerigg Stone Circle and very close to the walk Pete and Deb and I did in June.

We caught the bus as close as we could then walked up the hill and along the ridge. Luke did not enjoy the walk up, but it was pretty! And reasonably dry, too.

As I’d read, there were excellent panoramic views from the top and we followed the ridge for about a kilometre then down the southern end. There was no path marked on my OS map but it was pretty clear where to go.

We only saw one other couple along the way and it was marvellously quiet. The rain that had happened through the night had cleared and only the top of Skiddaw and Blencathra were covered in cloud. We even got a bit of sun on our way down.

The path ended right at a 555 bus stop, which was super handy, so we caught the bus back to Keswick then the 77A to Buttermere to eat our lunch then go for a wander along the lake. While it was perhaps not quite as fine a day as last time I was here, the lack of crowds made up for it.

We found a lovely patch of fly agaric too!

At the southern end we spent a few minutes watching a dog try to pick up a rock out of a stream – the rock was bigger than its head and we watched in amazement as it finally managed to pick the rock up and get it up to the bank.

We caught the bus back to Keswick by 5 and headed straight to the Wainwright pub where we shared a steak and ale pie, Luke agreed it was the best he’d had yet. After we’d finished eating another couple asked if they could share the table and we ended up talking to them for ages. Janice and Steve were from Newcastle and on their yearly holiday to the lakes. They had their immaculately white west highland terrier with them and we talked dogs and walks and travel for a while before Luke and I decided it was getting late and headed back to the Cartwheel.

A lovely day out!